03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Battle for California: Gettysburg or Waterloo?

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This year's presidential race is not, as the pundits now parrot, all about delegates. Like always the case in politics, it's about perceptions. And so whoever wins the most votes in the California battle today, and is therefore perceived to be the inevitable nominee is likely to actually become the Democratic nominee. For Obama this could be Gettysburg. For Hillary - Waterloo.

There was absolute panic yesterday and today inside the Clinton California campaign as it continued to be rocked and jolted by the tectonic shifts in momentum toward Obama. Big Dawg Bill was suddenly pressed into a second day of campaigning in California's black churches. And as polls opened in the Golden State, Hillary Clinton did four - count 'em four--call in interviews with Podunk youth-oriented California radio shows trying to blunt Obama's wild surge.

The last-ditch efforts to save California, where Hillary was head by 30 points last summer, are understandable. One eye-popping survey now has Obama out in front of Clinton by a crushing 13 points in California. We all know about the unreliability of polls, but if this one is anywhere near the mark, Clinton can pack it up.

Yes, delegates count. But the way you get delegates is winning by votes - even with the arcane oddities of the way they are apportioned. If we all agree that regardless of tonight's results, the hard math won't be finalized until next month's primaries in Ohio and Texas - and maybe even beyond into Pennsylvania in April--the question is, how would either candidate win these races.

Answer: whoever creates the unmistakable perception of being, yes, the winner. The strongest candidate. The front-runner. The virtual nominee. And it seems rather obvious, at least to me, that voters in Columbus, Austin and Philly are not going to be asking themselves: "Now, how many delegates to Hillary win in California's 45th Congressional District? How did Barack finish in the 13th?" Rather, they are going to ask; Who won California?

We out here in California are girding for one more earthquake - sometime, probably, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. When it's over, one Democratic campaign or the other is going to be in shambles.